By Lauren Smith, College and Magnolia contributor
Before we talk about this meet, it's important to get a little historical perspective. Two years ago, Auburn gymnastics was a good program. Not great, but good. They went out in the early part of the season, put up decent scores...but never got any better as the season went on. That's an important thing to do in gymnastics. Teams look to start out at a good point, and improve from that point with every meet. Harder skills get added to the routines. Gymnasts get stronger. That never seemed to happen with the Tigers of a couple of years ago.
Enter Coach Jeff Graba. Since being hired two years ago as the head coach, he has hit the ground running with recruiting. He has brought in some impressive talent, most noticably in this recent freshman class. Coupled with the veteran members of the team, the gymnasts have found a spark that has been lacking, and the program has begun.
Last night's meet against #2 Florida was going to be a tough meet to win for Auburn. Florida, though being criticized for being sloppy, inconsistent and holding back in their routines was coming into the meet with an average team score that was over a point higher than Auburn's. Auburn was back in front of their home crowd after two weeks on the road, and a home crowd is an important part of a gymnastics meet.
Auburn opened up the meet on vault. Vault is the achilles heel of this Tigers team. The girls can't seem to find their landings, which means they are taking a lot of hops and steps when they are landing that are costing them precious tenths. Allison Sandusky opened up with a 9.725. Petrina Yokay followed with a 9.7, Brittany Webster with a 9.775, Kylie Shields with a 9.825, and Bri Guy and Toi Garcia with matching scores of 9.875 finished out the rotation for a total score of 49.075. In gymnastics, a good score for a rotation is a score higher than 49. When Auburn starts to stick their landings here, all of these scores should improve by at least a tenth.
*Scoring note: In gymnastics, the top 5 scores on each event counts, so each team will drop the lowest score on each rotation.
Over on bars, Florida rattled off scores of 9.825, 9.825, 9.85, 9.9, 9.95 and 9.925 for a total score of 49.4. Florida had some impressive bar routines. They had an extremely high level of difficulty in all of their routines, and almost every gymnast stuck her landing. That makes a big difference in the scores. Additionally, Florida has the #3, #5, and #17 ranked gymnasts on bars in the nation.
Auburn has continued to improve each week on bars. This week was no exception. Allison Sandusky is currently the #22 ranked gymnast in the nation on bars, and Petrina Yokay is ranked #11 on bars in the SEC. Bri Guy led off the rotation with a 9.825, Abby Habicht scored a 9.85 and Megan Walker a 9.875. Nice solid scores, and more importantly, nice stuck landings. The final three gymnasts for Auburn killed it on bars: Yokay scored a 9.9, and Sandusky and Shields each put up a 9.925. At this point, the crowd was roaring for the girls after each routine, and the energy level was picking up. Auburn posted a 49.475 - which, if you'll note, is higher than Florida's team bar score.
On vault, Florida scored 9.775, 9.85, 9.9, 9.925, and two scores of 9.95 for a team score of 49.575. Stuck landings make a big difference here.
Auburn had a season high team score on beam last night. Yokay led off with a 9.825, Walker had a small bobble and earned a 9.8. Habicht looked shaky in the beginning, and had a big balance check later in her routine that cost her a few tenths - she ended up with a 9.7. Sandusky hit a strong routine next for a 9.875. Bri Guy makes her incredible power work for her on beam - she posted a season and career high of 9.95. Kylie Shields fell twice, so her score was dropped. Auburn's team score of 49.15 was a season high for the Tigers.
On floor, Florida looked shaky, and allowed Auburn to make up some ground in the score. Several of the Gators took steps on the landings of their tumbling passes, and a couple of girls stepped out of bounds, which is an automatic deduction. Scores of 9.6, 9.75, 9.75, 9.8, 9.825 and 9.875 gave them a total team score of 49.050.
Heading into the final rotation, Auburn trailed by .325. Remember, Florida's overall average score was over a point higher than Auburn's average team score coming in to this meet, so our Tigers were definitely holding their own against the #2 Gators.
Florida had a solid beam rotation to seal their win. Scores of 9.825, 3 scores of 9.875, and scores of 9.9 and 9.95 gave them a team score of 49.475.
Though there were a few tumbling troubles, Auburn walked away with yet another season high score on floor. Laura Lane kicked off the rotation with a 9.85, and Shields followed with at 9.7. She had a little trouble on two of her tumbling passes, and there was a big scoring discrepency between the two judges scores. Webster came out next with a 9.8, though her routine looked effortless. Toi Garcia is one of the highlights of Auburn's floor rotation. With floor music that includes "Tiger Walk" and a cheer of "War Eagle" from her teammates, she smiles her way through her routine and looks like she enjoys the heck out of it. Her score was a 9.875.
Bri Guy is one of the new freshman that came in this year. As you've read above, she's making an impact on every event. Her shining moment always comes on floor. Her tiny body is solid muscle, and she flies through the air. Her opening tumbling pass, a double layout, is one of the hardest tumbling passes done in college gymnastics. She is all power, and it shows all throughout her routine. Like Garcia, she smiles her way through her entire routine, and you just smile along with her. Last night she scored a 9.9, but a 10 is not that far off in her future.
Karen Kadous wrapped up the floor rotation with a 9.75. She also had some trouble on one tumbling pass, landing a little short on one. The floor score of 49.125 was a season high.
In the end, Florida tumbled away with the win, with an overall team score of 197.5. Auburn's total team score of 196.875 was a new season high score for the Tigers.
What's important to remember is the continuous improvement our Tigers are showing each week. Auburn is starting to look ahead to the SEC Championship, and beyond that, the NCAA Regionals. In the program history, Auburn has never earned a bid to the NCAA Regional meet. The next few weeks will be critical for the Tigers. They certainly have the talent and potential to make it.